THE BLOG
01/17/2013 04:10 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

World Bank-backed Coal Plant Threatens Water Crisis in Kosovo

The World Bank, along with the U.S. Government, is pushing a $58 million Partial Risk Guarantee for a highly controversial coal-fired power plant in Kosovo. The Bank has pushed for the project to move forward over the objections of local Kosovars who demand that it's their land and their choice. But before it can fast-track this project the Bank's Board of Directors must give final approval based in large part on an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). Already the Bank and the U.S. government are risking the local air quality and Kosovar's health to fast track the ESIA. Now it appears they may be glossing over potentially devastating water impacts as well.

The proposed coal-fired power plant and expanded mining operations will draw water from a local canal, which is already considered "severely stressed." The canal, the economic heart of Kosovo, supports households and agricultural activities in this young nation. Negative impacts on this critical water source would threaten the very fabric of life in Kosovo.

Nezir Sinani, a member of the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development, is acutely aware of what a new coal plant means. "Kosovo's citizens already face regular water supply cuts, while many fertile fields are left un-utilized due to lack of sufficient water to grow anything. Despite these significant problems, it is very disheartening to see the World Bank support plans that will deepen the water supply crisis in the country, which will hit directly every citizen of the country and it's much needed economic development."

Nezir, along with Heike Mainhardt of the Bank Information Center, conducted a review of the World Bank's study on Ibër-Lepenc, and the results confirmed their worst fears. The Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Bank's ESIA stipulate that the Bank's assessment will rely on existing studies, which are based on incomplete and outdated data, masking the project's true effects on Kosovo's water supply. Heike Mainhardt explains that "the World Bank has based its water supply study on limited and low quality data and only low-growth modeling results. Furthermore, the Bank is supporting the coal project despite not knowing the technical details for the new plant, which will play a core role in water usage."

And if endangering Kosovo's water supply isn't enough, the project threatens the country's entry into the EU.

Mara Silina of the European Environmental Bureau elaborates: "It will be nearly impossible for Kosovo to implement EU energy and environmental legislation if the coal based plant is built. The water, soil and air will continue to be heavily polluted, preventing Kosovo from being integrated in the EU."

Not of course to mention the pesky fact that Kosovo already gets nearly 97 percent of its electricity from coal. Adding yet more coal to the mix precludes its ability to meet the EU's increasingly stringent renewable energy standards.

Given the wide range of concerns with the projects, and the incredibly substandard level of data and information upon which the Bank's decision will be made, civil society groups from Kosovo and abroad have ramped up a calls for the World Bank to drop plans for more coal in Kosovo. After all, its own former chief clean energy specialist Dan Kammen has been telling them for a year now that low carbon options will create more jobs at a lower cost. If the institution, and its leader Dr. Kim, is really concerned about climate change and public health, this should be an easy decision. But with other coal projects already in the pipeline, we'll need to see real leadership to assuage our deep doubts.

The full review is available here.

This post was co-written Nezir Sinani, a member of the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development, Mara Silina from the European Environmental Bureau, and Justin Guay and Nicole Ghio from the Sierra Club.